I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve had a yearning for all things natural. Flora and fauna, plunging waterfalls, long wide beaches. All of which are rare in my urban environment. But, ironically, there are ways in which the digital world can help us rediscover the natural one.
Take for instance iNaturalist, a collaboration between National Geographic and the California Academy of Sciences. At its most active level it turns users into naturalists: you snap creatures or plants with your phone, share them with others via the site, and then discuss your findings. But there’s also an “Explore” tab that gives you access to a map of the world and allows you to find out about, say, the Himalayan blackberry, or the Vermilion Flycatcher.
The site has even launched a Never Home Alone project inviting people to study the bugs and beasties that share our spaces. (Among the most observed species is the Long-bodied Cellar Spider – brrr!)
A child-friendly app from iNaturalist called Seek uses image recognition to identify different plants and animal. Users win badges for identifying particular species or tackling challenges. It certainly beats the dog-eared ornithology scrap book I had when I was a youngster.
Of course, you could go to a more traditional source by visiting The National Geographic Society, which is currently offering a virtual tour of its exhibition about Dr. Jane Goodall, famed for her studies of chimpanzees in the wild.
A more recent destination for creature fans is Mammalz, an interactive community in which participants share their experiences with animals via photos, audio, video and live streaming. It was launched in September 2019 by two wildlife filmmakers who wanted to create a dynamic social media spin on classic TV nature shows.
If you fancy a virtual stroll through nature, Instagram has a host of options. For a while now I’ve been following @TheRoyalParks, for beautiful pictures from London’s iconic parks, including Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Another comforting virtual place is @TheNationalTrust, devoted to the charity that protects “special places and outdoor spaces”.
The National Trust is currently celebrating its 125th, as this rather wonderful ad from Wieden +Kennedy depicts. But the world of bustle, noise and haste that it evokes at the start has since been put on dramatic hold.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the immense Yellowstone National Park is closed at the time of writing – but its website offers webcams, virtual tours and photo galleries.
Did I mention I was missing beaches? Well thanks to these clever folks at Mallorca 360 you can take a virtual 360° tour of one of Europe’s nicest beaches.
Not good enough for you? Happily, Thrillist has collected a whole host of virtual beach vacations for your viewing pleasure.
Advertising tends to specialise more in artifice than nature, but when it focuses its lens on the natural world, the results can be spectacular. Feast your eyes on this spot from TBWA/Paris, made last year for the French national railways service SNCF.